Document collaboration is not the same as document review

Recently there has been much debate in ECM circles on the death of traditional ECM systems because the users are self serving their requirements using the new breed of Cloud platforms. I have followed the ebbs and flows with interest, there is no doubt that enterprise IT is faced with a huge challenge. The user community are far more aware of IT in general outside of work – there is an App for everything – and they want the “at work” experience to match their personal and social IT realities.

Lawrence Hart (@piewords) in this piece I think put’s his finger neatly on why the  “new kids on the block” are gaining momentum with the end users – usability. I think that the improved usability bonus for their day to day work is what appeals the most. As “information workers” we now have too much “local personal” data to be able to keep track of it with simple folders or in “My Documents” or by e-mail collaboration. Right now I think that the cloud providers are providing a massive improvement for part of the process, the part the users see most, but there is more to a complete ECM. Let’s take two area’s for an example:

Document review – the process of another person (usually further up the chain of command) reading a document for accuracy and peer review is a task that has long been in the ownership of the traditional document management sphere. It requires the data to be “secured” and the ability to establish an audit trail of when the document was sent, and if it was considered accepted or not. This process is where the traditional Document management solutions excel with rules and workflows and auditability. the actual interaction with the system are minimal, so the fact that for the most part the usability is poor is less of a turn of – though improved usability would certainly help.

Document collaboration is another whole domain – this is the brave new world where 10 people spread across 3 continents are all collectively working to shape the document that will be sent for review. This is the arena of the cloud upstarts, and this is where they offer so much more than their traditional rivals. The real breakthrough here is not just in the area of ECM, but more in the area of document composition. Track changes in Microsoft word seems so woefully underpowered as a collaboration tool when you have seen text appearing in a different colour form a different user on your google doc in real time, or when the though you had at lunch and typed into the document on your phone is there on your PC screen when you come back from lunch.

My view is that in the short term the 2 players will continue to sit comfortably side by side with the new players offering a brilliant usable multi person ability to create and collaborate on content, and the traditional industry taking to product of this collaboration and putting it through the corporate business rules for publication. In the medium to long term, will the existing cloud providers create sufficient functionality to take over the “business rules” end of this market without losing their end user appeal? Or will a new breed of cloud providers emerge – ones that will replace the second half of the process, providing the level of control and security required, but with reduced licencing and implementation costs? The one certainty as I see it is that traditional on premise solutions are history.

The market is huge, and growing and there is in my opinion, a number of major disruptions still to come – interesting times for those of us in the game.

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